Becoming a green campus isn’t easy

STU should promote recycling more, says sustainable lifestyles coordinator Kyla Tanner. (Cara Smith/AQ)

Making Canadian university campuses more environmentally friendly has become a hot topic, and St. Thomas University is no exception.

STU’s most recent effort is the water conservation challenge between the residence houses, but other changes are also visible around campus.

Former student Marylynn Côté, along with the president’s advisory committee on campus environmental issues (PACCEI) released the university’s first environmental audit on Feb. 9.

The audit looked at how environmentally friendly the university is, and gave suggestions for two- and 10-year goals.

According to Andrew Secord, an economics professor who worked on the audit, the goals were based on what other universities have done or are trying to accomplish.

“I don’t think anybody would call any university green, just like you wouldn’t call any business green, because we still have an environmental impact,” said Secord. “No university is green, anywhere in North America.”

The audit was created as a baseline for the university to have when designing strategies to make the campus greener. Secord said it was necessary to determine what STU’s environmental impact was before trying to reduce it.

“Any university serious about reducing their impact needs an audit, otherwise you’re kind of working in the dark,” said Secord.

Even though the university still has a long way to go to become greener, Secord said some positive changes have already happened.

Events like the water conservation challenge help to increase awareness about personal consumption, and the effects can linger long after the challenge has finished.

Secord said a very strong initial reduction in water use is usually seen during the event. A more subtle decrease will often continue in the long term.

“They tend to change peoples’ behaviour because they change water usage, which we’re typically not aware of because we live in a water-rich country,” said Secord.

The new water fountains, which provide users with a convenient place to fill up bottles, are another water-saving effort.

The audit recommends completely banning the sale of bottled water on campus, something the University of Winnipeg did in 2009. Secord doesn’t think this will cause people to buy water off-campus.

“People do the right thing if it’s possible to do the right thing, and it’s not too inconvenient,” said Secord.

During the 2010 students’ union spring election, students voted 65 per cent in support of the students’ union advocating the sale of bottled water to be phased out on campus. But it hasn’t translated into a bottled water ban.

Kyla Tanner, the sustainable lifestyles coordinator for the students’ union, came up with the idea for the water conservation challenge. She is also a member of the PACCEI, which she said looks critically at the university’s green initiatives, and develops ways to improve them.

A new change this year is the option to print on double-sided pages in most computer labs. This is the default setting for students, and Tanner thinks doing the same for faculty would save a lot of paper.

Some students only print on single-sided pages because they worry their professors won’t accept their work otherwise, a situation Tanner said should change. She also thinks there should be more promotion of recycling on campus.

“It’s all those things that are added together that make a difference.”

Janice Harvey, an environment and society professor at STU, also likes being able to print on double-sided pages, and thinks there should be more awareness among faculty of the new option.

“At the [Harriet Irving Library], two-sided copying is the default setting on all the printers. It should be at STU as well,” wrote Harvey in an email.

Secord said environmental initiatives are often driven by students.

“The challenge with every university that’s done this is to keep the energy going,” he said.

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